The New Recovery Advocacy Movement

There are a couple of recent documentaries on the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous (see The 13th Step the film which documents systemic psychologically damaging dynamics), and the $35 billion dollar business arm called the ‘rehab’ industry ( which documents deceptive business practices). Those films have only started being distributed in the last year, and not widely. A book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science behind AA and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes also takes a good critical look at evidence.

While these are newer attempts to inform the public about real problems with AA, complaints are not new and have been increasing. Rehabilitation programs like Straight, Inc. in the eighties were controversial and faced lawsuits for false imprisonment and abusive practices. In 1999 a doctor won a case against a rehab program for false imprisonment, fraud and medical malpractice. In 2001 the Department of Justice issued a statement that any use of DoJ funds to indoctrinate religion (specifically 12-step programs) was a violation of the 1st Amendment, yet my own investigation found that state programs are still very actively involved in spreading the AA message.

Several cases have set precedent that it is illegal for judges to order people to AA, and yet they still do it. Many doctors who have heard about getting help with an addiction problem entered into Physicians’ Health Programs only to find that they will lose their licenses if they don’t attend a 90-day rehab (at their own expense), 3 AA meetings a week (for years) or try to dispute mandatory, random drug tests (paid for by them). These programs establish behavioral contracts with the license as leverage and any violation adds YEARS to the contract and severe consequences (such as loss of license, with no ability to dispute or argue). (see ) Doctors, nurses, pilots who have lost their livelihood, when they don’t kill themselves, sometimes realize they have nothing to lose anymore and decide to speak out. Many of them straightforwardly identify the system as a racket, unfair, and ‘kafkaesque’.

Sober living environments are presented as a treatment option, and often turn out to be not much more than slumlording as a non-profit — no actual treatment, no medical oversight, but maybe a pee testing scheme to make money for each ‘head’ from insurance companies. These places are often even considered ‘rehabs’ or halfway houses but often are nothing but houses with AA members in them.

AA through its pamphlets teaches members how to promote these professional systems and rehabs through the media, and yet denies any involvement or responsibility. What is called the New Recovery Advocacy Movement is the cultural cooption of AA alternatives (like MM and SMART) and tries to gather them all under the umbrella of ‘spiritual recovery’ and the rehab and sober living industry. One example of this is a movie called The Anonymous People which found some data about 20 million people in America being considered ‘in recovery’ because they had a substance use issue and resolved it, and used that to enhance the image of ‘Recovery Culture. In reality there are only about 2 million people in AA and the majority recover without treatment or religious conversion, and there is even evidence that treatment is counterproductive. I could go on and on.

This is all to say that someone approaching AA with a methodological atheist standpoint will be tempted to reinterpret AA in secular terms assuming that the interpretation will explain ‘how it works’, when it actually doesn’t (as treatment). The assumption that it works in the first place is only an assumption. Even the concept of needing a support group is mostly an invention of AA, and prematurely assumed to be an important aspect of any secular approach.

A closer look at evidence, even the positive evidence such as experts claiming it works or that “they don’t force people into AA anymore” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and these dynamics (such as the fact that critics may never be allowed to BE professionals in the recovery industry and may in fact not want a piece of it) does more to explain how racketeering, censorship and misinformation works than how a treatment for ‘alcoholism’ works.

Typical responses and non-responses – AA BS fools ethics guru

I found this site about “Ethics” by an “ethics training and consultant firm” in Alexandria, VA. There was a glowing article about what a wonderful organization AA is. I thought I’d set him straight because his “About” page says we don’t have to agree. He shut me down pretty quick though without seeming to have considered any of the points I raised. Much like the NYS Education Department and Samaritan Institute. I write this blog to try to explain how people can become so personally invested in ideology that it becomes impossible to even consider arguments to the contrary.

I post my whole interaction with him below, but here’s a summary of his conclusion:

I’m full of shit,12 Step programs are a godsend for millions with an incurable disease. I obviously have issues with AA. AA doesn’t lie. Don’t post here again. Good day, sir!

Why would an ethicist be completely uninterested in examining ethical violations so clear as this: National Association of Social Workers Ethics Code class action complaint against social workers in Alcohholics Anonymous. 

An ethicist should be aware that when a party has been presented with facts and chooses to disregard them, that can amount to negligence. I hope he would not advise his clients to delete and ignore important information required for ethical choice, especially since he “has led non-profit organizations devoted to education, public policy research, legal services and health.”

So, here’s how it went. Maybe I didn’t have tact. I didn’t think I needed to because he’s not a member; he just LOVES AA and how ethical it is and doesn’t know about its problems yet, right? After this exchange, I’m pretty sure he’s not swayed by facts.

Most people that end up in AA are either sent there by judges or rehab programs unethically. It’s a first amendment violation as well as usually a scam, since rehabs have the appearance of medical treatment, charge a lot of money to medicaid and then mostly just ship people to free AA meetings and don’t even manage detox. The whole industry is plagued by the very fundamental ethical breach which is pretending that 12 religious ideas is ‘treatment’ for a ‘spiritual disease’ which can only be arrested by the 12-steps.

September 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm

MOST people aho go to AA are ordered there? Absolute and complete nonsense. Not even close to true. Where did you get such a silly idea?

September 3, 2016 at 7:15 pm

For many people it is the way to stay out of jail, keep their family, keep their job, or not end up in jails, in institutions, or dead. In many cases this is only because those families or courts have been told that forcing people into regular AA meetings or else ‘lovingly detaching’ is the only ethical thing to do and the only way that person will ever get better or stay better — By AA members who are following the 12-step tradition proselytizing to professionals and patients. Thus the rehab industry has a constant source of free word-of-mouth advertising, because AA meetings are training sessions for formulating a personal story of debauchery, disaster/miracle, and redemption.

The 12-step rehab industry and the AA 501(c)3 are some of the most unethical organizations in the world. You can see ‘How it Works’ in a documentary called The Business of Recovery and The 13th Step. What is wrong? Well, AA seems to give its members the sense that if they don’t participate in and proselytize for and defend their little religious program, most ‘alcoholics’ will die; for one. There are many such simple flat out lies, such as the “rarely have we seen a person fail” lie. They also refuse to provide members with new scientific information about alcohol use or empirical data about what is normal. They do not have a sexual harassment policy and instead have unspoken traditions not only of “13th stepping” but also of blaming the victim for being upset. This blaming the victim dynamic is also very apparent in the rehab industry where when treatment fails (and it nearly always does, or worse) the client is told to either come back for another round or shut up because they obviously didn’t put enough into it.

I could go on but I don’t need to.

September 3, 2016 at 8:25 pm

Yeah, don’t, because you’re full of shit, to be blunt, as you showed in your initial post. 12 Step programs give hope, support and assistance in dealing with an incurable disease. I have a lot of experience with AA (though I have never personally been a member). It’s not for everyone, but it is still a godsend for millions, and your characterization is false. I don’t know if you had a bad experience or are a flack for a competitor. There is no “rarely have we seen a person fail” lie—AA and ALANON make it very clear that anyone can relapse any time. The point is that doing so isn’t “failure.” It’s the disease.
I don’t know your motives, but this is the last anti-AA rant you get to post here. Got it: you have some issues with AA. Your characterization is absurd, however.

My Rebuttal

Instead of rehashing the whole debate here, I’ll just link to the original, because it did go on for a while longer before I finally “apologized” and he forgave me.